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April 19, 2013

A tree grows for Caleigh a year after loss

Down on Western Avenue, near the ice cream parlor at the foot of Middle Street, where, on the 4th of July, the little children of Gloucester ride high on their parents’ shoulders to watch the fireworks exploding out in the harbor, a tree grows in memory of a little girl who — though no longer with us — will always be a child of Gloucester.

Her name was Caleigh Harrison, and she would be 3 now. But on the afternoon she inexplicably vanished — exactly one year ago to the day — she was just 21/2, a tiny toddler with a great big grin who, her father says, loved the color purple, her big sister Lizzie, and running naked in the summer sun.

It wasn’t quite summer, but it was plenty sunny last April 19. The day had dawned bright and breezy here on Cape Ann. A storm had tossed the sea and left it wild and wind whipped, but spring was in the air and it was warm enough at last to kick off your winter shoes and go for a brisk run on the beach.

That’s what Caleigh Harrison did last April 19. Her mother, Allison Hammond, had taken her and her big sister Lizzie, then 41/2, to Rockport’s Long Beach for the afternoon. Racing barefoot along the sands, they’d been tossing a ball to Lucas, the family dog, and when the ball landed up on the seawall above the beach and Allison went off to fetch it, she left the girls down on the beach “situated,” as she’d later tell a TV reporter, “playing by the rocks.”

Allison told the same reporter she did not regret taking her daughters to the beach that day because “the time we had there was fantastic ... up until when I turned my back.” Hammond says that, in her recollection “it’s all a blur,” but she thinks she only turned her back for “maybe a moment.”

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